Gas water heaters use a special flue connection, called a draft hood, that allows indoor or surrounding air to induce a draft up the flue increasing speed and efficiency of the exhaust of the combustion gasses.
That is the theory anyway.
The plastic collars were melted due to back drafting
If the flue is installed properly it should draft properly but there can be problems that can be hidden that can cause problems with proper draw.
When the draft hood does not function properly you get what is called backdrafting. This is where combustion air would rather spill back into the home or garage instead of getting effectively sucked up the chimney. This is potentially dangerous because sometimes gas appliances do not burn as clean as they should and monoxide is a by-product of improper combustion.
On a recent home inspection I noted issues with draft on the water heater. The combustion air was spilling into the home. So much so the plastic trim on the water pipes were melted! I suggested that this was potentially dangerous and a licensed professional plumbing/heating and air contractor repair as necessary.
Several weeks later I was asked by my client to re-inspect the work that was done. Everything looked great until I got to the water heater draft hood. No change to the back drafting condition could be noted.
Fogged mirror indicates back drafting.
One of the problems with repairs done by the seller is that they usually want to meet the agreed upon conditions for the least amount of money as possible!
A week later I was called back to inspect the back draft once again. This time I met the heating and air contractor who was involved in the repair. He told me how he began to fix sections of the flue and he kept discovering problems. He ended up replacing the entire flue all to way up to the roof line due to the deteriorated, unlined masonry chimney that was at the root of all of the issues.
A large part of homeowner maintenance is paying attention to little things.
Areas that are above or below the line of sight, tend to be the most neglected areas. Deterioration, rot and leaks can hide in these areas that are just out of sight. These areas are the places that keep home inspectors in business.
Plumbing supply and waste lines are always in areas that are out of sight. Special attention needs to be paid to these pipes periodically. Small leaks under the sink, or worse, in the crawlspace, can lead to big issues. For those of us that do not really want to go into the crawlspace… there is a secret little leak detector on most water meters.
The little dial on most water meters have a little red or white triangle. The triangle will spin with very little water movement. This can be a pretty handy way to check for leaks without actually going into the crawlspace!
On a recent home inspection in Salem, Oregon I noted the red triangle spinning. No water was being used in the home… The buyer and/or seller now have some more investigation to do.
As an attentive homeowner you should check this “little thing” to ensure that your supply pipes are not leaking.
The most important part of a good home inspection is the education about the home. Above and beyond the defects that good home inspectors will find, helping the new home owners understand the weird knobs and switches that are in a typical home is really where good inspectors earn their wage.
One type of knob in particular that I see often in more recently built homes is the “hose bib winterization valve.”
It seems simple enough however they usually are not anywhere near the hose bib (outside water faucet)!
In a two-story home, these valves are usually stuffed under an upstairs bathroom sink. The placement is good because if you shut the water off and open the bleed valve the water will readily drain out the outside water faucet.
If you have a recently built home and see one of these under the sink:
Thermal imaging has been an absolute game changer for the home inspection industry. About eight years ago my wife and I bought our first home in Salem, Oregon. At that time I worked in construction and I was a pretty hand dude but I knew very little about furnaces, electrical systems, plumbing and many other integral parts of a typical home.
The home inspector that we hired requested that we not show up till the end of the inspection. I didn’t really like that advice so I showed up went he began his inspection. That excuse for an inspector spent about 45 minutes in our 1950’s fixer and didn’t say more than a dozen words to me, even though I was asking him questions constantly. He didn’t even introduce himself!!
Upon moving in we realized that the furnace didn’t work, the bathtub had a leak and the shower head barely had enough spray to get you wet!
A year pasted before I learned of thermal imaging and how their were a few inspectors across the country that were using this wonderful technology to offer more and better knowledge for their clients. I took the leap and be and became home inspector.
Yup. Thats a leak in this new house
Yesterday I inspected a new home and with out my fancy little camera my clients would not of known about a plumbing leak. The leak was in the upstairs master tub and it had not caused any finish damage yet……
Equiped with the knowledge that I provided my clients were able to save the ceiling in their kitchen/dining room, the flooring in this area and all of the head aches that go along when you have to do major repairs to your home.
With more and more banks acting as the primary owner of homes I am starting to see more and more ridiculous decisions. Issues that would never come up for a home owner are now manifesting due to the utter lack of common sense displayed by most banks when home ownership is their new responsibility.
Recently I got the chance to inspect a bank owned property here in Salem, Oregon. It was cool the morning of the inspection but not unusual (the high 20’s). The bank in their infinite wisdom turned the water to the home on, for the inspection. But……some one forgot about the heating system…… The agent, client and I walked into the home and discovered a large pool of water on the floor of the kitchen and dining room and rain falling from the kitchen ceiling!
Although the leakage was awful, it was still manageable. The water had not been there for very long and the wood flooring was not even warped, yet….. I turned off the water and grabbed some towels to try to sop up the majority of the water. We rescheduled the inspection and hoped that the bank’s reps would properly dry the home before serious damage occurred.
Three weeks later….the bank just got the heat on!!!! During the subsequent home inspection I find typical water damage issues and ceilings, walls and flooring that is still wet! A good general rule of thumb is: if water is uncontrolled in a home for as little as 24 hours, mold can start to rock and roll. I did not do any mold testing in this home but I just can’t help but wonder what the second floor joist bays look like. Hmmm…wet wood and paper for 3 weeks, I think it is probably very fuzzy with fungal growth.
As many of you may know, when dealing
with short sales and banks you have to leave
common sense at the door. Even with this premise it is still disappointing that over
and over again it seems that banks
are so ill suited to be primary owners of homes that they spend dollars to save pennies.
Water heaters in general are reliable for around 10 years. They can last much longer or they can start to fail after 5 or 6. (the oldest I have seen was a 68 year old electric water heater that was still cranking away!) Among other issues with water heaters, the age is a good indicator of when the unit may start to fail or when you may need to replace the unit.
The name plate will give most all of the information we need to determine the size and age of the unit. Some times the age is very obvious and there will actually be a label that states when the unit was manufactured. Most of the time you have to look in to the Serial Number. With most brands the year will be the second 2 numbers in the serial number.
Bradford White apparently insists on being difficult because they use a secrete spy code on their tanks and you need to bring your box-top decoder ring.
In this first picture you can see the location of the serial number:
This next picture shows the two letters that are significant for determining the date of manufacture of this particular water heater:
At this point we get out our secrete spy decoder ring (or try a Google internet search):
and we can see that this tank was produced in October of 2005. Meaning it is a 4 1/2 year old tank.
At this point I am tired of talking about have concluded some brief ideas on what to look for when looking at these super stylish modern appliances. You can check out my earlier posts here: More water heater information
There are a few things to look at when inspecting this oh-so mundane of household appliances. If you have read my earlier posts or seen the MythBusters, you would understand that the pressure and temperatures contained in this vessel are nothing to be taken lightly.
Seismic Straps: In other parts of the world this may not be a very important issue but around Salem, Oregon the earth shakes from time to time. Knowing what we know now about the bomb that is our water heater we know that we shouldn’t mess around too much and expose it to rupture or other damage. The best way to protect the heater is to strap it to the structure and make sure it doesn’t tip or fall over.
The straps need to be installed with one in the upper third of the tank and one in the lower third of the tank. These straps should be tied securely to structure with lag bolts.
With these two straps installed properly, minor earth quaking should not cause damage to your water heating system.
I will discuss the other important items in the next posts…….
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The Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve (TPR) This is probably the single most important safety device on water heaters. This is a simple valve that allows gas/steam/liquid to leak if the pressure or temperature gets too high.
In recent years TPR’s have become very standardized, mounted on the tank, but older models still may have the valves on the hot water line. This condition will cause a home inspector to gripe and is not as safe as the valve on the tank but if you do notice this condition it is most likely time to replace your whole water heater.
With the TPR in a standardized location it is now time to add the extension piping. Yes, extension piping is important! Remember that TPR valve is a release valve just waiting for the temperature or pressure to get to high. When it releases it may do so with a significant amount of steam and super heated water. The extension piping ensures the steam exhausts near the ground and not in anyone’s face.
The pictures are perfect examples of how NOT to pipe the TPR!
I will discuss the other important items in the next posts…….
Sexy, stylish and fashionable your water heater is not. (unless you have one of those tankless systems, but that is another blog) Your water heater is an important part of modern living and it really makes indoor plumbing enjoyable.
There are a few things that I look for and that are important when I am inspecting homes in Salem, Oregon and the water heaters therein, the first thing is:
Where is it?
If it is in the garage there are a few rules that need to be followed for safe operation. If it is gas, the flame source needs to be at least 18″ off the ground. This condition will apply to gas units that are more than 4 years old because we have now gone to a sealed burning unit that does not have an exposed flame. If you can get to the pilot light so can combustible gasses. Combustible gasses in garages tend to hug the ground so if the flame is sealed or 18″ off the ground it will help prevent those combustible gasses from igniting.
I will discuss the other important items in the next posts: Part 2, 3 and yes even 4!